In financial media, you see quotes from Warren Buffett everywhere, as he's well known as one of the best stock-pickers around. The words of his longtime business partner Charlie Munger, however, don't make many headlines -- and that's a shame.
Munger is Buffett's right-hand man and the vice chairman of Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B). Munger is also a great investor in his own right. When tens of thousands of people convene annually in Omaha, Neb., for Berkshire's annual shareholder meeting, Munger sits on stage with Buffett, and the two answer questions from shareholders and others for about five hours.
Buffett has even credited Munger with making him a better investor by teaching him that "it's far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price." According to ValueWalk.com, between 1962 and 1975, Munger's investments generated compound annual average returns of nearly 20%, which is darn impressive.
Here are a few of the many quotable things Munger has said that can help you get ahead in investing and in life.
I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.
Munger has long recommended that people keep reading and learning throughout their lives and that they not restrict themselves to any single topic. He has spoken often about how various disciplines intersect and inform one another.
It's waiting that helps you as an investor, and a lot of people just can't stand to wait. If you didn't get the deferred-gratification gene, you've got to work very hard to overcome that.
Patience is an underappreciated but critical component of investing success. You might double your money in a year if you're lucky, but to make 10 or 20 times your investment, you need a well-chosen investment and the patience to endure inevitable ups and downs. Investors with patience can also enjoy an easier kind of investing, as Munger explained on another occasion:
If you buy something because it's undervalued, then you have to think about selling it when it approaches your calculation of its intrinsic value. That's hard. But if you buy a few great companies, then you can sit on your ass. That's a good thing.
On moral obligations
People should take way less than they're worth when they are favored by life. ... I would argue that when you rise high enough in American business, you've got a moral duty to be underpaid -- not to get all that you can, but to actually be underpaid.
This will give you an idea of Munger's stance on CEO compensation and on philanthropy. He and Buffett have repeatedly spoken against boards of directors that rubber-stamp CEO compensation packages, and both are known for giving away much of their vast wealth. Munger has also said:
To the extent that all I've done is pick stocks that have gone up and sat on my ass as my family got richer, I haven't left much contribution to society. I guess it's a lot like Wall Street. The difference is, I feel ashamed of it. I try to make up for it with philanthropy and meetings like this one today. This meeting is not out of kindness. This is atonement.
His generous nature is also evident in this statement:
The best thing a human being can do is to help another human being know more.
Munger is known for his clever quips and retorts at Berkshire annual meetings and elsewhere. Here are just a few:
- "I do not think you can trust bankers to control themselves. They are like heroin addicts."
- "I'd rather throw a viper down my shirt front than hire a compensation consultant."
- [In reference to how the Internet and technology offer both benefits and risks] "When you mix raisins and turds, you've still got turds."
- "If mutual fund directors are independent, then I'm the lead character in the Bolshoi Ballet."
- "What's the best way to get a good spouse? The best single way is to deserve a good spouse because a good spouse is by definition not nuts."
- "Someone will always be getting richer faster than you. This is not a tragedy."
We would all do well to learn more from Charlie Munger. Fortunately, many of his words and thoughts are available online and in books. Better still, get yourself to a Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting and listen to him yourself.